How to Prune Camellias
by Barry Johnson
Can you prune my camellias mister? What a fateful question and to a man who has a big, small and extension chainsaws, not to mention motorised hedge trimmers and good olde hand ones as well. I can remember a landscaping job where most of the existing rubbish was removed leaving a gigantic example of Sasanqua 'Hiryu'. This specimen consisted of about 5 naked branches reaching up about 4 metres with and 2 metres of top foliage growth. Highly aesthetic I don't think.
With the philosophy of 'Leave 'em Crying' and true to form, out comes the chainsaw and the five branches are reduced to, totally naked stumps about 1.5 to 2 metres tall. This surgery resulted in the owner ringing every week for about 6 weeks (sometimes in tears) about what I'd done to her nostalgic camellia. Trust me madame, just make another gin and tonic and have another lie down. Everything will be alright. Landscaping tip: Make sure you've been fully paid up for your work before trying this.
Sure enough, the phone rings with a very excited client on the other end saying her Hiryu is bursting out with new growth all along its branches. That was about 3 years ago and you should see Happy Hiryu now, covered in foliage from head to toe, with blooms all over twice the size of the few miserable ones that used to be on the top that only passing birds could appreciate.
Was this reincarnation achieved by luck, accident or design? In the case of many garden services, it would be sheer luck. I my case, I trust that experience counts. Why did my drastic pruning technique succeed? In essence it was a combination of a number of factors; timing, soil reconditioning and hydration, feeding, mulching and aftercare.
In the case of the Hiryu example, I had fully landscaped this garden which started with soil rejuvenation. This entailed trying to get some new soil conditioning compost around the vicinity of the plant. Next, and particularly after about 8 years of drought conditions, I re-hydrated the entire garden with a wetting agent, in this case 'Saturaid'. You should not be fooled by some recent rain that there is moisture any more than a few centimetres down and certainly not in the substrata. This protracted period of drought has left our soils generally hydrophobic ie. waterproof.
The aforesaid preparatory work done, the most important issue in pruning camellias is timing. Camellias only have one growth spurt per year and this commences just after their flowering cycle and in totality it may only equate to about multiple regrowths of about 20 to 30 centimetres. We need to capitalise on this fact. Late pruning will result in diminished regrowth and more chance of dieback and dead-end branch stubs. In the case of younger cultivars pruning may only entail shaping by 'skirt' pruning. Larger cultivars can be moderately or severely pruned, hopefully, not 'butchered' with the hand or chainsaw.
In the case of younger cultivars pruning may only entail shaping by 'skirt' pruning. Larger cultivars can be moderately or severely pruned, hopefully, not 'butchered' with the hand or chainsaw. So there you go, time to tally Ho! with the pruners and then I'll have a gin and tonic for no reason at all, other than yum.